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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Jeff,

I would not bid so much as 5 if West had overcalled 2NT. In my view, the unusual notrump doesn't have to be nearly as pure as your suggested examples. If you wait for such hands, you will be missing a lot of opportunities to get in the way of the opponents. With the 4-3-3-3 shape, I would just bid 3 and bow out of the auction, hoping that the 2NT call does whatever damage is necessary.
March 17, 2012
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Jim,

You are correct. I had forgotten that the potential spade loser would still be there after the club lead, and that the club threat can be killed. It would definitely be correct to play the king of clubs at trick 1 on a club lead.
March 12, 2012
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David,

With 4-3-3-3 distribution I balance with a pass. With the other shapes I might do either.

I strongly disagree with your statement that it is dangerous to double at the 1-level. It is much more dangerous to wait and balance. Several reasons:

1) You are a level lower.

2) If you wait, the opponents will have had a chance to describe their hands. For example, suppose the opening bidder has 4-card support as he does on this hand. If you make a takeout double of the response opener will raise, and you will be out of any trouble you might have been in. But it you wait, it is much easier for the opponents to penalize you as happened here, since they will have already found their fit.

3) Since the opponents are unlimited they might have a game, and finding that game will be their first priority. Once they have stopped they know they don't have a game, so they don't have to worry about a penalty being inadequate compensation.

4) Most pairs play support redoubles, as well as card-showing/takeout doubles by responder when they haven't found a fit or limited themselves. Thus, it is very difficult for them to get you.

The biggest danger of the light takeout double isn't going for a number. It is that partner might take you seriously and overbid. Even this danger is somewhat lessened by the fact that partner passed over the opening bid.
March 4, 2012
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Stephen,

Balancing with 2 is certainly possible. If North has 4 spades, it won't matter which balancing action South takes. So we need only consider when North has fewer than 4 spades.

1) Bidding 2 eliminates the possibility of defending 2. Admittedly that is unlikely, but as seen it is possible.

2) While South could have only 4 spades, that isn't certain. Will North always pull with a doubleton spade if 2 isn't doubled?

3) Assuming North has 3 spades, does 2 or 3 figure to be better on balance? If North has 4 diamonds, which he could easily have, then 3 will almost surely be better. If North has 3 diamonds, then 3 is probably better since the 4-3 fit might not play too well if the long hand is getting tapped. Only when North has 2 diamonds, thus specifically 3-3-2-5 distribution, does 2 figure to be better.
March 3, 2012
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I strongly believe that the double should be lead-directing. After the Bergen raise, most of the time partner is going to be on lead. I have seen many a close contract be defeated because of this lead directing double and its cousin – the inference from failure to make the lead-directing double which will induce partner to lead a different suit if he has an otherwise close decision.

The value of having the double be a takeout double of their major is overrated. It isn't often that you will want to be competing higher than 3 of their suit to begin with. If your hand is strong enough or distributional enough for that, you can either bid 3 of their suit or pass and then double, depending on whether you are 2-suited or 3-suited.

If more pairs made use of this free shot at a lead-directing double, players would understand just how inferior Bergen raises are. In addition to giving up a potentially good use for the 3 of a minor call (preemptive, natural invite, or strong jump shift are all worthwhile ways to play the bid and gain when the right hand comes up), Bergen raises helps the opponents on defense. The gains from Bergen raises are minimal, since these hands can be handled decently with other approaches.
March 2, 2012
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Mike,

I use the concept on opening lead quite often. A common situation occurs vs. a low-level partial when the opponents are likely in an 8-card fit. If I have an otherwise pretty equal choice between leading from a 5-card suit and leading a doubleton, I will often let my trump length be the deciding factor. If I have a doubleton trump I'll tend to lead my doubleton, but if I have 3 trumps I'll tend to lead from the 5-card suit and hope partner has a doubleton. The theme is to get or threaten a ruff in the short hand, just as I would do if I were declarer.
Feb. 28, 2012
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Why does double have to be takeout for this to be sensible? If you don't have a suit you know you want to play in, what are you doing competing to the 5-level in the first place?
Feb. 20, 2012
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Mike,

If you are going put the priority on slam vs. just competing, I think you can do better by inverting the meanings. Also, I think the 2-suited red-suit hand is very rare – how often do you want to fly in at the 5-level when you have no idea whether or not you have a playable trump suit. I suggest the following:

4NT: Relay to 5, a hand which simply wants to play at the 5-level in some suit.

5, 5, 5: All natural slam tries in that suit.

The advantage is that opener doesn't have to worry about either/or problems. When responder is making a slam try, opener knows what responder is doing.

Note that opener doesn't have to bid 5. If opener has a strong hand with slam values even if responder is just competing, opener bids the lowest suit in which he would not want to be in slam if that is responder's suit. If opener wants to be in slam opposite anything, he bids 5NT of course. Thus, if opener has a hand which wants to be in 6 if responder was competing to 5 but only wants to be in 5 if responder was competing to 5, opener bids 5.

You can see that this is analogous to Lebensohl or good-bad 2NT, where a 3-level call is constructive while 2NT is a relay to compete on a weak hand.
Feb. 20, 2012
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William,

I don't see the difference. After 1m-4-? 4 would be natural. So the situation is basically the same, except that if you go past 4 then only the minors are in play, while after 1m-4 all 3 suits are in play. But 4NT is still takeout for the minors in most partnerships.
Feb. 20, 2012
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A fine idea if you are dealt enough slam hands. However, I believe that the standard expert interpretation of 4NT on these auctions is takeout, assumed for the minors. Typical after 1-4 might be x xx AQJ10xx Kxxx. This follows the general theme that in competitive auctions the focus is getting to the best strain.
Feb. 19, 2012
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Adam,

How to apply restricted choice on opening lead depends on what you think the defender would have been likely to lead from various holdings.

If you think the defender would always (or almost always) lead a heart with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts, then obviously you will play him to not have Qxxx in hearts when he leads a spade.

If you think (as I do) the defender would always (or almost always) lead a spade with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts, then you should apply restricted choice. By the assumption about his opening lead he might have led either major with xxx in both of them, but he was forced to lead a spade with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts. Thus, if all other things are equal he is twice as likely to have Qxxx in hearts vs. xxx when he does lead a spade.

If I had led a heart, declarer would have the same problem in reverse. If he decides that I would never (or almost never) lead from Qxxx in hearts vs. xxx in spades, he would be sure to get the diamonds wrong in the end position.
Feb. 18, 2012
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Hendrik,

A heart lead is clearly more dangerous than a spade lead. It might guess the queen of hearts for declarer. Or it might flat out give away a heart trick, if the hearts are, say, Axx in dummy and KJx in declarer's hand. The spade lead could also guess the suit for declarer, but it never does anything declarer couldn't have done for himself.

The heart lead establishes a trick if partner has specifically the king of hearts. This will be necessary only if declarer has 12 tricks after knocking out the ace of clubs. The bidding indicates that both hands are balanced. There doesn't appear to be any 5-card suits in either hand. It is possible that declarer has 12 tricks with 4 spades, 3 clubs, 4 diamonds, and 1 heart if the heart trick isn't established, but this would be playing for a very specific layout. It is more likely that the heart lead will give up a trick than that it will establish a necessary trick. If it weren't for the very real possibility of a double squeeze, I think the spade lead would be clear.

I led a spade and didn't really consider it much of a problem. At the table (as opposed to being given the hand as a lead problem), I'm pretty sure that most experts would come to the same conclusion. It was only when writing this hand up that it occurred to me that the heart lead has a lot going for it.
Feb. 18, 2012
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LL

When declarer finds out that West has 4 clubs, he knows that the simple minor-suit squeeze will work when West has 4 diamonds, while the double squeeze will work when East has 4 diamonds.

Declarer has cashed the third spade, so he knows the spades are 3-3. If West started with 4 diamonds his distribution is 3-2-4-4, making the hearts 6-2. If East started with 4 diamonds West's distribution is 3-4-2-4, making the hearts 4-4. A 4-4 heart split is clearly more likely than a 6-2 split, so the double squeeze is the percentage play.

It is possible that at the table declarer decided that he would be able to guess the diamonds if West didn't start with 4 diamonds. However, there was no basis for that decision, as proven by the result.
Feb. 18, 2012
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Randy,

Great idea. I will talk to the powers that be. My guess is that it can be done reasonably simply.
Feb. 18, 2012
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Chris,

While I agree with your theme that one can't always know what a player is thinking, I believe that on this hand you are suggesting a thought process by declarer which simply didn't exist. After winning the third round of spades, any decent declarer would lead the queen of clubs in his sleep. This guarantees 11 tricks if the club king is on, 10 tricks if the club king is off, and involves no risk at all. The fact that declarer didn't do this indicates to me that declarer had no clue at all, and choosing to take the club finesse at the end was an accident rather than a well thought out risk.
Feb. 18, 2012
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Paul,

Nothing to do with their suit. Any non-natural call above 3NT is a slam try, not a choice of games Q-bid.

I don't see why 4 is likely to be a void. Since 4 would be natural, 4 is the only bid which is available for a slam try in hearts. It doesn't even necessarily show a diamond control. What would South bid over 3NT if he had something like: AKxx AKJxxx xx x? Surely he is worth more than a mere 4 call. Yet it is not safe to go above 4. So 4 is all there is.

Feb. 2, 2012
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The leap to 6NT is terrible, as are almost all leaps to slams. South might have had something like KQJ10x AKJ10x xx, in which case 6NT is off 2 aces while 6 is laydown. What North should do is not clear, but it is clear that he shouldn't bid 6NT.

The real issue is whether 4 is a slam try or choice of games. It is nice to say it is choice of games for this hand, but suppose instead South had AKxxx !AJ10xxx xx. Now 6 is a fine contract, but how would it be reached? If 4 could be bid on the actual hand North can't do more than bid 4. And if South has my example hand bidding over 4 is pretty dangerous, since North might not have any help in the majors and 4 could easily be the limit of the hand.

My partnership agreements are: Above 3NT, there are no choice of games Q-bids. Any Q-bid is a slam try. Below 3NT there are no slam tries unless a 9-card major-suit fit has been established. Any artificial call is assumed to be looking for the best game until proven otherwise. This doesn't always work perfectly, but it leaves no ambiguity and clears up situations such as this deal.
Feb. 1, 2012
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Sathya,

I believe declarer can still make even if East wins ace of hearts and returns a club. West must duck, of course. Now declarer cashes out red-suit winners ending in dummy and leads the third round of clubs. If East wins the clubs are dead and declarer can set up a diamond trick, with the defense getting only 2 hearts, 1 diamond, and 1 club. If West wins, West is end-played after cashing the clubs.

In fact, declarer doesn't need to lead a heart first. When declarer find out the diamonds are 3-1, he can win the second diamond and lead a heart – being sure to unblock the king when East goes up ace so declarer can win the third round of hearts in dummy to play a club without having to touch the spades.
Jan. 30, 2012
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Barry,

You are quite correct about the alternative loser on loser end-play, which works if hearts are 5-2 or if East started with KQJx. That is certainly declarer's percentage play, as his actual line depends upon West having two honors doubleton in clubs, East having all the honors, or an unlikely defensive error. Whether declarer never saw this line or read the heart position accurately I do not know (I was West). I'm pretty sure that I didn't really huddle on the heart lead, since playing the king would be a clearly wrong play. In fact, it would allow declarer to make the contract with the loser on loser end-play.

One further point: If the hearts are such that the loser on loser end-play would succeed, East should be sure to play his smallest heart on the third round of hearts so it would look possible for West to win this trick. If East started with KQJx, it would be vital for him to unblock on the second round of hearts. Declarer could have done better by leading the 8 of hearts from his hand rather than small to the 9, so the 9 of hearts would remain as a deterrent to East playing small on the third round. But East should do so anyway even if the 9 would win the trick, since playing high would be conceding.
Jan. 21, 2012
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Randy,

I would bid 3D at any vulnerability, any form of scoring. Sure, occasionally you will run into a misfit and go for a number. But the cost of missing a vulnerable game or getting to the wrong game is just about as big as the cost of going for 800, and that will happen a lot more often. Also, passing risks being on the wrong side of a double part-score swing.

It is all too easy to remember the times you go for a number. But the hidden IMPs lost (or not won) are just as important.

Roland,

Scott says it all. You tell partner 10/13 of your hand instead of 5/13 of it.

Keep in mind that a 1S overcall doesn't define your strength. You might have a weakish hand – about an 8-count. You might have an intermediate hand – about a 12-count. You might have a strong hand – about a 16-count. So partner faces the same competitive decision problems as far as strength goes when you overcall 1S as when you bid Michaels.

If the opponents were to take an oath of silence, then I would agree that overcalling 1S would be more likely to lead to the better contract than bidding Michaels. But life is not like that. Opponents are in there bidding also, and if you don't show both suits now you may have to decide whether or not to risk showing hearts at the 3 or 4 level. It is better to establish the extent of the fit immediately. If LHO passes over the Michaels call, partner has methods with which he can invite. If LHO bids, partner will be better able to judge what to do when he knows you have both majors.
Jan. 20, 2012
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